IT job security beyond the recession

Tips for setting your career on the right path to ensure employment in the future

The economic signs are starting to point to the end of the recession. The decrease in real gross domestic product slowed in the second quarter to an annual rate of 1 percent. In the past six weeks, we've seen spending increases in the stock market. And other leading economic indicators have been advancing as well.

Yet, as a technical professional, you may still be in need of clarity in order to set your career on the right path to ensure employment in the future.

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How will the business and technology trends we are experiencing now affect the availability of IT jobs five to 10 years down the road? Will your job exist in a decade, or will you find yourself in search of another way to apply your skills?

Offshoring outlook

Although the hoped-for benefits of outsourcing aren't always realized, employers aren't going to stop sending jobs overseas. Recent advances in telecommunications and collaboration tools (think videoconferencing) are making it easier to manage an offshore workforce. And the fact that foreign wages have remained lower than U.S. salaries makes outsourcing a viable option for many companies looking to cut costs.

At the same time, though, businesses now recognize that outsourcing is not synonymous with offshoring. Certain functions can be on-shored or near-shored -- that is, moved off-site from the company location but kept within the U.S. Doing so mitigates some of the typical challenges of offshoring, such as the need to address cultural differences or language barriers.

Historically, what we've seen is the commoditization and eventual export of low-level skills into markets that can provide certain services faster and cheaper than we can in the U.S. Consequently, we're seeing fewer and fewer jobs at the programming task level (i.e., coding) domestically. But there are still significant gaps in the ability of offshore providers to architect, manage, document and troubleshoot development projects.

What does all this mean for you? As you proactively manage your career, focus on developing skills that will complement, rather than be cannibalized by, outsourcing. For example, to some programming professionals, the thought of managing a team is terrifying. However, successful outsourcing relationships require U.S. liaisons and managers who can interact with offshore resources to keep projects on track.

If you're a coder, don't rely on your expertise in the latest version of your software to maintain your career. Instead, seek out opportunities for leadership. Aim for a lead developer position, and from there progress to project analyst, architect or project manager.

The availability of thought leadership positions is increasing; try to position yourself further up the value chain.

A safe bet in health care IT

Thanks to advances in medicine and a deeper understanding and appreciation of healthy lifestyles, the U.S. population is living and working longer than ever. The result is a growing demand for qualified and experienced workers in health care -- not only for those who deliver health care services (i.e. doctors, nurses, etc.), but also for those who develop and maintain the technologies that support health care.

Insurance companies are among the largest consumers of technology talent, and as Americans grow older and shift more spending into health care and insurance, the need for IT professionals in insurance product and service development will continue to expand.

Health care IT is a safe bet for the U.S. worker. President Obama's administration has already focused spending on the health care industry, and with such funding likely to continue throughout his tenure, employment in that sector will be strong for years to come.

American government, American jobs

There's also likely to be high demand for IT professionals in the government and defense sectors. For example, the U.S. Army has been undergoing an SAP implementation for the past nine years or so. The Army, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security and all of the other agencies charged with protecting our country will continue to boast job opportunities for several years.

Many of these jobs require security clearances, which put the workers who obtain them into an exclusive class. Because it could take a year or more to achieve top-secret clearance, and since companies often can't afford to wait for a new employee to be cleared, people who already have security clearances have a high degree of versatility and mobility.

What's more, because of the sensitivity of many government programs, there's a lower likelihood that those functions will be outsourced.

Preparing for the future

The good news is that outsourcing has been alive and well in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, and it certainly has not led to the doom of the American technology worker. Rather, it has created gradual pressure for technology professionals to move higher up the value chain into business-focused IT positions.

From a career standpoint, now's the time to make an honest evaluation of your skills. If you find yourself still feeding off the latest software version or language, strongly consider training that will move you up that value chain and away from the code. Many organizations will provide or subsidize continued education for their employees. For project managers, the Project Management Institute offers courses and resources for career advancement.

Moving forward, though, the most important skills for the U.S. IT worker -- whether in health care, government or any other sector -- will be communication and collaboration capabilities. These skills are crucial for people who want to lead and manage projects, teams and outsourcing engagements, and they are invaluable when it comes to furthering your career. For technology to advance, knowledge and expertise cannot be hoarded. Only by sharing and discussing this knowledge can we hope to improve current standards and develop better ideas that will propel us into the future.

Adam Lawrence is vice president of service delivery for Yoh, a workforce solutions unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit Yoh.com or www.theseamlessworkforce.com.

This story, "IT job security beyond the recession" was originally published by Computerworld .

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